The 2,000 mile road test: Is the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT C really a grand tourer?
Kurt is a freelance automotive and motorsports photographer, and reasonably quick test driver.
If a manufacturer names its car “GT" it better excel at grand touring. Comfortable yet fast. Agile while not overbearing. Sleek but not wildly styled. Enough space to cram luggage for two adults to trek across the country. Able to gobble up hundreds of miles per day, over several days, without feeling like you just went 12 rounds with Mike Tyson.
In order to test if the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT C can actually handle a grand tour, you have to take it on a proper one, so that’s what I did.
(Some transparency: I wanted to do a more comprehensive road trip test in a grand tourer, to really see if it could take a beating over 2,000 miles in a ton of conditions, so I hit up the fine folks at Mercedes-AMG. They sent this AMG GT C to me in Texas, and told me to have a blast all the way to California. I covered the cost of fuel, accommodations, and meals along the way.)
My route would take me from Austin, Texas to Los Angeles, California, in a less than direct route across west Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Normally when I get to review GT or performance cars, it’s in a time limited and curated environment, and I don’t get to push longer mileage through more comprehensive road conditions. For this trek, I decided to not only incorporate scenic locations for shooting the car, but to test the Mercedes-AMG GT C in various conditions for temperature, elevation, and road type.
What Is The Mercedes-AMG GT C?
The GT series is Mercedes’ entry into a packed 2-seater GT and sports car segment. First launched in 2015 and designed and built in their performance department of AMG. With a wide stance, long hood, stretched wheelbase, and shallow tail end, the AMG GT C has some attractive proportions. Ringing up a base price around $150,000, it finds itself competing with the Acura NSX, Porsche 911 GT3, and Audi R8. For 2020, the car has been updated with refreshed exterior styling, new headlights, and a revised interior that is more similar to the Mercedes-AMG GT 4-door coupe.
The GT C trim is the middle of the pack for the AMG GT line, between the base and the more hardcore GT R model. Think of it as an equivalent to the Porsche 911 GT3 Touring Package. It gets much more power than the base model—with only slightly less than the top end GT R—which has plenty at 550 HP, the C loses the big rear wing yet keeps the body kit you’ll find on the GT R, and is still given plentiful features inside to keep you comfortable on longer drives.
Some Important Figures
My Designo Iridium Silver Magno tester opted for carbon ceramic brakes, interior and exterior night packages, 19” front / 20” rear black 10-spoke wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, red seat belts, adaptive cruise control, carbon fiber crossbar, Burmester high-end surround sound system, and red pepper and black Nappa leather inside a matte carbon fiber appointed interior inside its $180,645 total price.
Under the hood, and behind the front axle, you’ll find a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 kicking out 550 horsepower at 5,750-6,750 RPM and 502 lb-ft of torque at 2,100-5,500 RPM, with a 7,000 RPM redline. Power is routed through a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission capable of hitting 0-60 MPH in just 3.6 seconds on its way to a 197 MPH top track speed.
Tipping the scales at just over 3,600 pounds, the Mercedes-AMG GT C is no Miata, but it’s not taking down too many cheeseburgers either. Overall length is 179.7”, with a massive 103.5” wheelbase (which is more than 6” longer than a 911 GT3). EPA fuel estimates are 15/21/17 city/highway/combined, which isn’t too bad.
The Run Across Texas
My wife joined me for this adventure, so we packed up the Mercedes-AMG GT C’s 10.1 cubic feet of cargo capacity-sporting boot. Surprisingly it swallowed up both of our roller bags and backpacks, with a tiny bit of room to spare for some quick detailing supplies, and without sacrificing any rearward visibility. Making a trip across any big stretch of America is no easy task, even if you break up the 2,000 planned miles over a few days. Texas is so wide you can drive on Interstate 10 for over 12 hours and still be in Texas.
The first day the my journey started in Austin, headed west through Marfa, and ended in Las Cruces, New Mexico, covering nearly 675 miles over 11 hours on the road. This would be the longest haul of the four day run. Stops were planned every 3.5 to 4 hours, since the AMG GT C needs its 19-gallon tank topped off somewhat often, and my terribly-kept 40-year-old body needs a stretch about as frequently.
At around 90 MPH for longer stints across the barren expanse of west Texas, the GT C was a trooper. The adaptive suspension was subtle enough over bumps, while still being responsive if I made any quick maneuvers. When I’d want to get around slower moving traffic, the surge of boost-fed V8 power was impressive, and I quickly found that I didn’t have to put my foot down much at all to make cars rapidly disappear behind me.
While keeping the car in its comfort setting, I liked how tight the steering wheel still felt on-center, rather than a floaty sensation I’ve felt in other performance cars on a highway. I will gripe that the EPA estimate of 21 MPG on the highway was never achieved, even though I’m easy on the go pedal when cruising. Utilizing the adaptive cruise control sporadically yielded no change in economy, with my average of 17 MPG for the whole trip.
I love the updated screen setup in the AMG GT C, particularly how I could customize the center gauge pod with a few different looks and data points. The 10.25” wide center display was perfect with Apple CarPlay hooked up to it. I made good use of Waze, mainly to get better data along the way, but the Mercedes navigation system gets the job done. I wish there was an easier way to change tracks on a Spotify playlist or flip between presets on Sirius XM when using Waze as the primary display, but I got over it.
West Texas Waltz
Once I covered six hours of Texas, I rolled into an artsy little town called Marfa. It has become a bit of a tourist destination over the past few years, but it’s a place I travel to about once a year to check out. With around 2,000 residents in the area, restaurants and bars are open when they feel like it, temperatures during the day in the fall are great while getting chilly at night, and there’s very little mobile data and internet service connectivity, so it’s easy to get off the grid.
Headed west from Marfa, you go through a desolate town called Valentine, which is home to several abandoned gas stations and old shops, and an art installation that looks like a storefront called Prada Marfa. With a lot of mileage to cover to get to Las Cruces, I didn’t have much time to be a tourist.
On the way through El Paso, Texas, I encountered a massive thunderstorm at night, and got to test out the new slippery adaptive drive mode. With a fresh set of Michelin Cup 2s mounted, I didn’t want to take any chances, and the AMG GT stayed perfectly planted and predictable for those last hundred miles.
Silver Arrow Meets White Sands
After a long haul across Texas, the first night’s stop was in Las Cruces, New Mexico, intentionally close to White Sands National Monument. Just 55 miles from my hotel, the park takes you through a missile test facility, which can sometimes shut down the highway unexpectedly. Definitely check the local park page and missile range postings before making the drive, and top off the tank, as there aren’t gas stations once you get out of Las Cruces. You’re on your own for a 100-mile round trip.
Luckily I drove there early in the morning, before the crowds rolled in and before the temperatures cranked up. This not only made the outside environment comfortable, but allowed me plenty of shooting space. I may have also used a couple of the packed gypsum parking areas to do a couple donuts. The night before experienced a thunderstorm, which left massive puddles to shoot the car in.
Days Two and Three Across New Mexico and Arizona
From White Sands, I had about eight hours of driving to reach the second night’s stop in Scottsdale, Arizona. Cruising along comfortably, the Mercedes-AMG GT C did a fine job gobbling up miles at higher speeds. Particularly in the desert heat, across some boring stretches of the 600 miles covered that day. Drowning out any hint of outside road noise is effortless with the optional Burmester audio system, which has some of the coolest designed speaker covers in the business. I was pleasantly surprised how easy my body had taken two long days on the road in a smaller cabin, which is a testament to the comfort levels inside the cockpit and in that super supportive (heated and ventilated) seat.
The plan was to tackle a fun stretch of road I discovered near Bartlett Reservoir when testing another fast car during a press launch earlier this year. The difference was that the other launch was in February, when it wasn’t lake season. A winding road I thrashed before it ended up being packed with boat-pulling trucks and a few local law enforcement patrols, eager to rack up some fines, so after a quick photo stop I aimed the car west on U.S. Highway 60. What a waste.
A lunch stop in Wickenburg, Arizona fuelled me for a healthy dose of driving along Arizona 72 which took me toward the California border. I didn’t want to take I-10 all the way to California, as I’ve done drives from Texas to LA a number of times, and that interstate run is bland. I wanted to see different things while exploring new routes on the way to the north side of Joshua Tree National Park.
California Is The Place You Want To Be
Roads along this less-taken path were somewhat rewarding, allowing me a chance to take the AMG GT C over plenty of elevation changes and longer sweeping turns, testing out a number of different ways to set up the comfort, sport, sport+, and race modes which adjust throttle response and engine mapping, stability control input, shift programming, and exhaust sound.
Moments before getting to Joshua Tree, I came across a signpost that made me flip a u-turn and grab the camera. This spot was near the Iron Mountain Pumping Plant, and has all sorts of signs and tags from people, pointing in several directions. A quick photo session complete, it was a hustle to get to Joshua Tree before sunset. Another 550 miles and eleven hours down.
The Real Test: Angeles National Forest
Leaving Joshua Tree early in the morning on the final day of the trek, my long days of driving on boring highways and interstates were to be rewarded many times over. Many of you are familiar with the Angeles Crest Highway’s famous 66-mile mountain sprint from Wrightwood to La Cañada Flintridge, California, but recent rock and mudslides adjusted the route a bit (and it recently reopened).
This road is not for the weak, and if you try to drive beyond your means, you’ll quickly find yourself and your car several hundred feet down a rocky or tree-lined mountain slope. With several Crest runs under my belt, the detour from the Angeles Crest Highway to Upper Big Tujunga, and then along the Angeles Forest Highway back onto the ACH is one hell of a drive, and gave the Mercedes-AMG GT C an epic exercise.
A quick twist of the steering wheel-mounted knob makes it easy to switch driving modes. With a few tweaks I found a perfect individual setting by combining the race mode for the engine and powertrain, paired with comfort mode for the suspension, and manual shifts for the transmission. Allowing the car to absorb some of the ACH’s bumps was predictable without compromising handling. I’ve used the Angeles National Forest’s amazing roads for several fast car reviews, and the Mercedes-AMG GT C was no slouch up there.
Quickly reminded how long the nose of the car is, I’d have to turn in a bit differently and more patiently than I would in a Porsche 911 GT3 or McLaren 600LT, but adjusting to the AMG’s steering feedback took no time. Fortunately the Mercedes-AMG GT C is equipped with rear wheel steering, which made some of the faster curves much more enjoyable. My personal preference is for a bit more weight in the steering wheel’s feedback, but never did I lose confidence in the AMG GT C’s ability to tackle any bend.
Punching the Mercedes-AMG GT C’s throttle will quickly move you from corner-to-corner with a healthy shove of turbo-fed power. I suggest being moderate with throttle inputs when exiting a corner that required heavier steering input, as the power from the Hot-V turbos spools up immediately. Couple that sudden thrust to a transmission and differential designed to quickly rotate and shoot ahead, and you’ll find yourself inducing a serious amount of opposite lock. As you are greeted with lateral Gs, keeping you in place are AMG’s sport seats that have significantly boosted bolsters both along your thoracic region and your outer thighs.
You’ll be happy you dropped the extra $8,950 for the carbon ceramic brakes when you stab the left pedal over and over to slow down for each approaching bend. The same goes for the optional Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber, which was flawless at managing grip throughout wild temperature fluctuations, elevation changes over several thousand feet, hard pavement, and a driver that was seeking the most from the car. Caffeine is not required to stay awake in the Mercedes-AMG GT C, as a quick push of the exhaust button before driving through a tunnel will open up your ears and awaken other senses too.
The Good Bits
There are plenty of good things to say about the Mercedes-AMG GT C. Its engine is brilliant, offering plenty of flexible power across a wide power band, and cranks out an exhaust note that will awaken the dead. Handling is sharp and effortless, with a slight hint of oversteer, offering good balance and control due to its 47/53 weight distribution and long wheelbase. The range of driving modes is actually useful in any condition, and is distinctly different in each mode. I also dig the steering wheel buttons that are customizable for adjusting drive modes, stability control, dynamics, and exhaust modes.
The GT’s exterior is stunning, and the lines are perfectly curved and shaped from any angle. That low, wide stance is superb, and you have to drop yourself low into the cabin. The matte silver paint was also perfect on this body, offering just enough shine in the light while being subtle. Inside, the cabin was well-appointed, and continues the trend of Mercedes products maintaining a high bar for fit and finish. Everywhere I stopped, people would make an effort to come check it out and offer high praise for its appearance inside and out. It looks like a smaller, more modern version of the SLS.
The Not So Great Parts
Of course there are a couple little things to mention which aren’t as favorable. For starters, the cupholder situation is lame when you want to use a radar detector and/or Apple Play at the same time. There are three USB ports in the car, with one in the cupholder area and the other two in the center armrest storage bin. Only the cupholder port works for Apple CarPlay, so you’re stuck using it in the front half of the spot while the plug in the backside of the cupholders for your radar detector port.
Once you’ve used these two plugs, anything wider than a Red Bull can isn’t going to fit into the cupholder. The challenge then is figuring out where to put your phone that’s plugged in. For storage in the cabin, there’s a net on the passenger side of the transmission tunnel, but not on the driver side. I wish someone would have thought of drivers who use the storage options inside at the same time, so that there would be a thoughtful place for everything.
The previously mentioned armrest storage bin is pretty small, so trying to get more than an iPhone and my Leica Q camera in there ate up the space. I also discovered that it gets super hot inside there after a couple hours, so electronics might get too hot to safely operate.
Is The AMG GT A Grand Tourer?
After nine days in the car, covering a four-day road trip over 2,000 miles, and over 2,700 miles in total, I got a solid analysis of the Mercedes-AMG GT C. It may have “GT” on the back, but deep down, this is a sports car, not a grand tourer. By no means is this a complaint.
Sure, the AMG GT C gobbled up a couple thousand highway miles with ease, kept me comfortable the whole time, and cruised along at Autobahn speeds without flinching, but I think of a Bentley Continental or Aston Martin DB11 when I look at cars that define grand tourers. The Mercedes-AMG GT C was fast and nimble on any road, and carved up canyon roads and the Angeles National Forest like a champ. It felt like something I’d position against the Porsche 911 GT3 as a true competitor.
Though at around $180,000, you’re spending a bit more than a comparably equipped GT3. If you’re looking for a more than competent sports car that gets plenty of positive attention from passers-by, eats up the fun roads, and can take a long road trip, you’ll be more than satisfied with the Mercedes-AMG GT C – so long as you also really want to be something other than another Porsche customer.